January 2013

A Place for Holy Hurry

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:5 ESV

Seldom in the scriptures do we see God encouraging people to be in a hurry. More often than not we find Him speaking to His harried creation about doing the opposite – the necessity of slowing down and waiting. “Be still” He says, “and know that I am God.” “Wait on the Lord . . . wait I say on the Lord.” (Psalms 46:10, 27:14)

Even Jesus, despite the frenzy around Him, never allowed Himself to be pressured into being in a hurry. He always had time to pause in His journey from place to place to give attention to the no-name people who pressed upon Him with their needs.

Interruptions for Him were the order of the day and it often confounded His disciples and those who followed Him. Invariably His priorities as evidenced by how He chose to spend His time were counterintuitive to the conventional wisdom of someone they thought had come to set up an earthly kingdom. Why should such an important person on a mission to rule the world be lavishing time on little children or blind beggars like Bartimaeus? (Matthew 19:14 & Mark 10:46-52)

But, being in hurry obviously makes sense when it comes to doing an act of kindness or more importantly, saving a person’s life. In that regard it is an imperative since time is of the essence. Ironically therefore, even for Jesus, it could be said that He was in a hurry to take the time to pause. This sanctified kind of hurry to do good, might be termed being in a “holy hurry.”

When you stop to think about it then, being in a holy hurry certainly has its place. And that brings us back to the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus was in the midst of another very busy day as the He was passing through the crowded streets of Jericho when He noticed the diminutive Zacchaeus perched in a tree trying to get a glimpse of Him. Without hesitancy He stopped and called the man out by name, doubtless startling him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” In other words, “Z, it’s high time you quit sitting on the sidelines being a spectator, and hurry down to come and spend time with Me!” Or phrased even more simply: “Hurry! Let’s hang out!”

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The Knot of Forgiveness

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” Matthew 18:21-22 NLT

This is a “Good News” passage of Scripture because it gives us a glimpse into the forgiving nature of God. The underlying message of this interchange between Jesus and Peter is that God is much more prone and committed to forgiveness than we are. The phrase “seventy times seven” is a figure of speech indicating there is no real limit as to how many times a person’s sin will be forgiven. While it is a challenge to the likes of Peter who must forgive the repeated sinner, it is wonderful news for those who struggle with the shame of repeated sin.

As Shakespeare said so eloquently “To err is human; to forgive [is] divine.” Much of human experience is designed to convince us of our need for the divine. There is nothing like our human depravity to drive us to acknowledge the desperate need for a forgiveness that is divine.

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The Grace for Second Thoughts

Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t judge you on your first response or initial reaction to things? I know I am. With God, it is what you do in the end that counts. More times than I care to admit my first response to God’s initiative in my life has been the wrong one, as it was for this first son in the parable that Jesus told.

Saying “no” to an authority figure like a parent or a boss is one thing. Saying “no” to God is quite another. Jesus was very pointedly using the story of these two sons to contrast the two divergent ways people tend to respond to His direction in their lives. (Matthew 21:32) On one hand we have the tax collectors and prostitutes, who were notorious for their initial “no’s” to doing the right thing and righteous living. But the Gospel message so softened their hearts that they finally, upon second thought, said “yes.” Through repenting of their self-willed ways they eventually put their faith in Jesus as God’s son. On the other hand, there were the chief priests and elders who feigned compliance to the will of God, but in the end, did not follow through, repent of their self-willed ways nor accept Jesus as Messiah.

I have several grandchildren who are in the toddler stage. They are sweet and loveable and a big part of my world revolves around them. But one thing they always remind me of is the stubbornness of our fallen nature. We all from birth have a will of our own and given the right circumstances we will voice it in either passive or aggressive ways. It never ceases to amaze me how a stubborn will in such a little body can so fearlessly challenge the will of someone so much bigger, stronger and wiser.

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Exposing the Deception of Intolerance

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” . . . But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. John 8:7, 9 ESV

The modern idiom for this famous story of Jesus’ is “people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” In other words a person should not criticize other people for faults they in turn may eventually be criticized for themselves. In this telling passage about a woman caught in the act of adultery, her accusers who drag her before Jesus are in the end faced with having to acknowledge their own sin and shortcomings. The Apostle Paul could not have summed it up more succinctly. “There is none righteous, no not one. . . For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10, 23) That, my friend, is the common ground upon which we all stand.

Our sinful nature has a way of leveling the playing field when it comes to the whole issue of making judgments about intolerant behavior. In the story above, the woman’s accusers were intolerant of her sin while being unwittingly tolerant of their own. That is a common tendency in all of us, and not just the proprietary pitfall of the Pharisees.

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In Praise of Solitude

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16 NIV

I just returned from a three day solo retreat spent in a little log cabin located in a remote neck of the western Wisconsin woods. My purpose was to sequester myself away, free from modern amenities, media distractions and human interaction to seek the face of God. Years ago that was an annual practice of mine, looking forward to setting aside time apart from the hustle and bustle of the world, to still my soul and listen intently for the voice of God. Sad to say it had been a number of years since I made that a priority but thankfully my long overdue withdrawal to the wilderness more than met previous expectations.

Spending time in solitude, expressly to delight in God’s presence is a unique experience. It helps when a person can isolate themselves geographically in a nature scape removed from civilization. Cloistered in a simple one room cabin with a window to the wooded winter stillness of white and gray set against the wash of an azure sky, I could not help but sense that God must surely be in this place.

I was struck right from the outset how the utter simplicity and austerity of such a setting so readily strips the worldly traveler of every false dependence and diversion. “What, no internet or cell phone coverage?” No, only silence and the sounds of nature; and the sounds you create through the motion of everyday activity, all woven intricately with the golden threads of your prayer and worship.

For me, my most faithful companions in times alone with God are my pen, journal and Bible. I’ve found reading and pouring over the words of Scripture to be like the sun around which all my reflections and prayers and meditations and worship align their orbits. And then my journaling becomes a natural expression of their reflected light with which God illumines my soul.

It might be said that austerity brings clarity and I have found in such settings that God often poses clarifying questions for reflection and evaluation. Such questions bid the harried sojourner to slip his heavy knapsack to the ground and sit a spell, so as to take an inventory of its contents. Not everything we so dutifully carry has been placed there by God and He wants to once again remind us that “His yoke is easy and His burden is light.”

Here is a list of the clarifying questions I sensed Him bidding me to ask. They enabled me to leave my respite in the woods carrying a much lighter load than when I arrived.

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